Tag Archives: How To

If You Write, You Read, And You Should Read This

Despite being published 12 years ago, Stephen King: On Writing remains a compass and road map to every pencil-wielding, Starbuck’s-visting, laptop-carrying, self proclaimed wordsmith of varying degree. There exists within every page a refreshing volume of honesty; an amount which may have proven (and still prove) to be far too…well, honest, for some.

Unrestrained by ego or ill-will, Stephen King holds nothing back in admitting the struggles of any who choose to make sense of their world through words, and yet in recounting his past reveals the joys and plausibility of a life spent doing just that.

A mini-biography of sorts, the life of Stephen King was, in the early days, not nearly as grand as any who’ve read his fiction may envision. The arduos challenges, some comical and others dismal, which he reflects upon are entirely human in their vulnerability, and as a reader I found myself experiencing fleeting echoes of what he may have felt; the joy of a father unable to afford medicine for his sick child coming home to an unexpected paycheck/publishing; excitement at the phone call which finally propelled him into the spotlight; pity and pain when, years later, a van nearly took his life.

By all accounts, I am a fan. That much is clear I’m sure. What I mean to get at specifically is exactly what I’ve said in the title of this post: If you write, you read, and you should read this. As one who writes daily I’m forever grateful for the pointing out of weaker areas in my own work, like taking a college course from your favorite professor for all of $16.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Stephen King’s work, are interested in what made him who he is, or are looking for an entertaining way to learn how to better your craft, I implore you to pick up a copy of On Writing for yourself.

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing…the more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” –Stephen King, On Writing (pg. 150)

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Inspirations (Part 2)

As times change, so do the sources of our inspiration. But some things are timeless…

“The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox”

You reference back to them for wisdom, for guidance, for new ways of thinking.

Like an overflowing bookshelf, your mind pulls tidbits of information from your favorite sources.

Remembering childhood friends,

“The Art of Tim Burton”

and mentors who’ve become masters.

Whether on hand or not, they’ve become part of you; a cherished tool on your utility belt of creativity. What are your inspirations?


Chalk It Up

“No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist.” -Salvador Dali

Meticulous.

The word perfectly describes the process applied by designers Josh Luna & Alisha Noles in re-designing and re-making the menu board for the Silk Espresso cafe.

Let me take you through their work…

First they took detailed measurements of the wall they’d soon be painting with chalkboard paint. They then created an elevation in the wall using Autocad, which included all the measured elements.

Having made careful revisions, the final design was printed on a large format printer in black & white. They set this aside for later, and, along with a few helpful friends, painted the wall with three coats of chalkboard paint. The paint dried for 48 hours before any graphics were transferred.

They applied graphite (2B works best!) to the back side of the to-scale print, taking care to get good, thick layers for a clean transfer onto the wall. Once finished, the prints were taped to the wall exactly where the graphics were to go.

Using very hard (4H) pencils, they meticulously traced every letter and line of the whole design. This took a good while, but once finished and the prints were removed, it was exciting to preview their work finished.

Everything was re-traced over in chalkboard marker (Chalk-Ink brand is the best and has a wide array of colors) and left to dry for two hours. Once dry, traditional white chalk was rubbed over the entire wall to add a textural finish.

It’s probably best to simply visit the location for yourself, enjoy a cup of their new Stumptown roast, and witness the work of art for yourself. Because it is, truly, a work of art.


Innovating with the iPad

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” ~Steve Jobs

A beautiful merging of design aesthetic & technologic advancement

The world of production is an ever-changing environment.

In a constant state of flux, the period between an “industry standard” practice and a “revolutionary” one is diminishing. As in the medical field, technological innovations rapidly shift the way we work.

The incredibly useful Movie Slate App

Ethan Borden, Cinematographer & VP of Gradient, has found his workflow radically altered using the iPad:

“With the Movie Slate App, it makes us probably ten times faster in post-production. It does a shot log which I can send out with an HTML or as a Final Cut XML document, and saves time and keeps us more organized because we’re switching from paper to digital.

We also have a Wireless Monitor App which allows us to connect to a computer that has the camera plugged in. It lets us control the camera and look at what’s being seen through the lense with a live view. We’re also able to walk around wherever on set and look at what’s being shot on camera. We see whats being seen through the DSLR.

I use the iPad 2 for a lot of workflow stuff on other projects as well: websites, Facebook, uploading photos that I’ve just taken on set.”

“In Post we use it a lot for labeling footage. It’s easy to make notes on set and then have our editor be able to refer to those while he’s working. It keeps everything centralized so that there aren’t 5 pieces of paper flying around with separate notes.”

Nathanael Sams has found his workflow in Post-Production streamlined as well:

“The Slate makes all the difference because we work with separate cameras and separate audio (Zoom H4N). What can be a daunting task of syncing up video and audio is a lot more feasible and automatic when you have a slate that beeps, because the program automatically syncs it up for you. That saves hours of time of manually going in and making sure it’s synced up.”

We aren’t shy in expressing our love of Apple products, and the iPad is no exception. It has quickly become invaluable on set, off set, and within our workflow.


Avoiding Predictability

“We have a duty towards music, namely, to invent it.” ~Igor Stravinsky

I recently sat down with Gradient’s Musical Composer, Sound Designer, & Editor Nathanael Sams to talk about how he approaches writing music for promotional videos.

“I’m actually really intimidated every time I have to start a new project. I’ll sit down at my piano and have ProTools open and just try to find the right melody. And once I find it, I begin building a chord progression around it.”

“I typically use ProTools, Logic, and Garage Band. It’s all Mac based. When I started using a Mac, I discovered MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). So everything I do pretty much revolves around MIDI instrumentation.

“In the movie What Women Want they do this ad campaign for Nike I think, and it’s really emotional and piano based and I remember that really inspiring me. I’m a big fan of piano based commercials because I think they’re the hardest to pull off.

“There’s this delay effect that people will put on the audio that makes it sound like they’re playing more notes than they are-”

(David) “It seems like it’s a lot easier to try to be really complex and overdue it, and then the most successful things are the most simple. Is that true?”

(Nathanael) “Yeah actually when I’m composing, I really try to be unpredictable. The hard thing is that your ears are accustomed to hearing a 1-4-5 chord progression which sounds really happy and pleasant. And a lot of people will try to mix in chords that don’t work well together. I’ll use Garage Band on my iPhone and basically be able to enter a chord that I’m starting with, and it will show me chords that work together with that.”

“You can always do a really powerful song using just a few notes on the piano. Like in Jaws, there’s this really beautiful, haunting melody through out the entire film.”

“Basically what I’m trying to say is that the greatest music comes from simplicity. You don’t always have to, or want to, be predictable with the music.”


Make It Happen

“I was directing before I knew it was called that.” -Guillermo Del Toro

Rebecca Noles:

      “I’ve been directing & producing since I was 10 years old and putting on Christmas pageants in the living room for my parents. I’ve learned a few things along the way and am offering them as advice to anyone interested or pursuing either field. I do, however, reserve the right to change this advice at any time in future blogs.

Directing

Directing is about need: What the script needs, what the crew needs, what the audience needs.

As a director, your only job is to acknowledge all the different needs within each department and guide them toward a finished product. Sometimes all the Director of Photography needs is to feel like he has permission to try something new. There are times an actor needs the director to take his/her eyes off the monitor and simply have a conversation with them. Sometimes an editor just needs you to get out of their way.

Acknowledge the need and work to fulfill it.

Producing

Being a producer at a small production company can be categorized into three main jobs:

  1. Make sure people have what they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
  2. Make sure everyone knows where & when to show up.
  3. Make sure the cast & crew members eat, sleep, are groomed, and stay caffeinated.
Being a producer is about serving the people who make the project happen.”

What to Write?

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ~Benjamin Franklin

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Writing for Gradient Productions has been both edifying and challenging.

Tasked daily with drafting something worth reading, in various forms, you gain a set of skills unlike those found in a classroom.

Take campaign writing: In order to get your point across the content must be simple, informative, yet creative. For a graphic flyer, you must take into account what the Visual elements are saying, and choose to either let them speak for themselves, or build upon what’s being implied. And considering you have roughly 5 seconds of an average persons’ attention, it must be short.

In the case of Narration writing, cut the unnecessary. “Audiolize” in your head the narrator’s voice and choose words appropriate to their style of speaking.

I pull inspiration from a variety of sources; Apple for the way they speak volumes for a product/campaign in 1-6 words. Certain creative minds for Vanity Fair & National Geographic. Anthony Bourdain and his superior writing “voice”.

I was an actor under the tutelage of an established screenwriter/director, and of the many lessons I learned from him, one that resonated for me as an actor/writer was that, “If you aren’t going to feature something, cut it.”

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